What has your process of composing Lux Arcana been like?
I learned a lot in the process of composing Lux Arcana, but writing the piece actually involved a lot of frustration and hair-pulling. I spent most of the 6 months writing the piece dealing with writer’s (composer’s?) block.
As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I usually spend a lot of time thinking through and conceptualizing a piece before writing any music. With this piece, when it came time to write, I still didn’t have a solid concept or idea to work with. I hadn’t come up with any answers for questions I had asked myself about what the piece would become. So, I continued brainstorming and forced myself to write a few short passages, but still nothing clicked.
Attempting to attack these problems from a variety of angles, I alternatively turned my focus to narrative, different motives, various compositional techniques, forms, shape, extramusical concepts, but still I wasn’t satisfied with any of the material I was generating. During this process, I wondered if the challenge of using the material that was not entirely my own (i.e., using elements of the rhythms and melodies created by the students) was causing strain on my workflow. So, I actually put aside those materials for a time. After a while, though, I turned back to the music the students composed. I fused together their two melodies and wove in a little of my original material, and the passacaglia theme was born.
Usually I have ideas for larger sections and I simply execute draft after draft until I’m happy. With this piece, I only could work in the micro, not being able to see beyond the next note. I pushed myself to continue writing—note by note, bar by bar, until a draft of the first movement was complete. I then turned to a long-abandoned sketch that turned out to be the perfect answer to the passacaglia’s final variation. I then continued composing note by note, bar by bar. It was taxing (even grueling at times), and I often had to force the next note, but after chiseling away, the music finally came.
In the end, while this experience was sometimes very difficult, it turned out to be very valuable in my growth as a composer. I learned that even blocked, I can still compose—I just need to write one note, and another will follow.